DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — An Austin High School graduate returned to the place that gave him his military start for a pinning ceremony this week.

The ceremony Wednesday at the school moved his rank from captain to major.

"I wanted the cadets to see the value of this program and what can be accomplished," said Joshua Fink, who graduated from Austin in 2002 and credits the Austin JROTC program for his success.

"He's top-notch, one of the best to ever come through this program," Austin JROTC instructor Lt. Col. James Walker said.

JROTC is more significant in Alabama schools today because military service is one of the college and career readiness standards that count 10 percent of the letter grade school districts receive.

Fink, who is stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, said he didn't need state education officials to tell him the importance of JROTC.

The 2007 West Point graduate said he wasn't sure the program was for him when he enrolled as a junior in 2000. But, he said, he quickly started learning about discipline, teamwork and service to others.

He was in other extracurricular activities at Austin, but no one had to convince him to return to the JROTC program as a senior. Fink said he was in an English class when the decision to make military a career happened.

"I heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center," he said.

Like so many other students, Fink watched in horror as the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I knew then I wanted to serve," Fink said.

He applied for the military academy, but because of his ACT score Fink said he had to spend a year at the U.S. Military Prep School in New Jersey before going to West Point.

Walker said he never doubted Fink would make it to West Point because he served in the top two JROTC positions at Austin. He was battalion commander and command sergeant major.

"Josh is like a legend in this program," Walker said.

Fink and Alisha, his wife of 12 years, met when he was stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and they have three children. She said he always talks about the JROTC program at Austin, Walker and what both meant to him.

"Decatur has been a big part of his life," she said.

Fink, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant when he graduated from West Point, said he always has wanted to do one of his pinning ceremonies at Austin as a way to show his appreciation for the program.

"But I was either deployed or stationed too far away," he said.

Fink served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008 and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2012.

"The key in the military is helping people," he said. "That's a lesson I learned here at Austin and one I will never forget."

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml